POLITICS

Mehdi's Morning Memo: Made In Moscow?

20/07/2014 10:11 BST | Updated 20/07/2014 10:59 BST
ALEXEI NIKOLSKY via Getty Images
Russia's President Vladimir Putin smiles while speaking with journalists in Itamaraty Palace in Brazilia, early on July 17, 2014. The United States and Europe strengthened sanctions on Moscow over Ukraine yesterday, with President Barack Obama taking his first direct swipes in the finance, military and energy sectors of the Russian economy. Putin warned the biting sanctions will boomerang and hit back at US national interests, will inflicting 'very serious damage' on an already tattered US-Russia relationship. AFP PHOTO / RIA-NOVOSTI / POOL / ALEXEI NIKOLSKY (Photo credit should read ALEXEI NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images)

The five things you need to know on Sunday 20 July 2014...

1) MADE IN MOSCOW?

The shooting down of flight MH17 dominates the front pages of the Sunday papers.

The Mail Sunday, for example, refers to Vladimir Putin as a "terrorist" in its splash headline.

The Sunday Times splashes on 'Russia in the dock', and also carries a front-page column from the prime minister, in which David Cameron says:

"We must establish the full facts of what happened. But the growing weight of evidence points to a clear conclusion: that flight MH17 was blown out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile fired from a rebel-held area."

The PM adds:

"Some international crises are insoluble. Not this one. If President Vladimir Putin stops the support to the fighters in eastern Ukraine and allows the Ukrainian authorities to restore order, this crisis can be brought to an end. Of course there must be proper protections for Russian-speaking minorities. These issues can be addressed. But the overriding need is for Russia to cease its support for violent separatists. If President Putin does not change his approach to Ukraine, then Europe and the West must fundamentally change our approach to Russia."

The new foreign secretary Philip Hammond - how's this for a baptism of fire? - appeared on the Andrew Marr show this morning to reiterate the prime minister's message, telling viewers that "the unavoidable conclusion that this was a missile fired from rebel-held territory; almost certainly a missile supplied by the Russians".

Hammond said the "the eyes of the world are on Vladimir Putin" who he accused of "obfuscation and obstruction" on this issue so far.

What action could the UK and its allies take against Putin's Russia, asked Marr? A "further tightening up of the sanctions we're applying" was the response from the foreign secretary, who claimed that "now the entire international community is ranged against Russia".

Is it really? Only time will tell.

2) KEN GOES ROGUE

If you thought Ken Clarke was blunt and no-nonsense when he was in government, did you think he'd be any less blunt or no-nonsense on the backbenches? No? Me either. From the Observer:

"Former chancellor Kenneth Clarke has cast serious doubt on the underlying strength of the British economy, saying there is a 'long, long way' to go before it is competitive enough to deliver sustainable growth and compete with emerging powers such as China and Brazil. In an interview with the Observer to mark the end of an illustrious career that has spanned more than 40 years in government, Clarke says Britain has to break out of the 'ludicrous cycle' of house price booms followed by crashes, and must focus on creating a productive manufacturing base in tandem with vibrant financial and other service industries... Clarke stresses that the economy is 'fragile', vulnerable to shocks, and still lacks the strong productive base necessary to compete long-term in global markets."

Clarke calls himself a "great fan" of George Osborne but Osborne won't be pleased to see these comments from his former cabinet colleague - and former Tory chancellor! - on the front page of the Obs. Cameron won't be happy either - Clarke says the Tories have a "mountain to climb" in order to win a Commons majority next year.

3) HEIR TO GOVE

Teachers, don't celebrate too quickly. From the Sunday Times:

"The new education secretary today warns teachers that she will continue to push ahead with Michael Gove’s radical school reforms despite his cabinet demotion to chief whip. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Nicky Morgan dismissed claims that she has been sent by David Cameron to call a halt to reforms, pledging instead to open new free schools and expand grammar schools where parents want them. While Morgan said she would be “nice to teachers” — a move designed to distance her from Gove’s confrontational style — she insisted there would be no backsliding on Gove’s reforms simply to placate the unions. 'There will certainly be no soft-pedalling on reforms,' she said. 'I think Michael has been a fantastic education secretary and the reforms he has put in place, particularly freeing schools from Whitehall interference, have been phenomenally successful.'"

So successful that he got sacked on Tuesday...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a cat poop on a mole's head. Yes, you know you want to.

4) PROPORTIONATE OR NOT?

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators took to the streets yesterday across the globe - from New York to Berlin to Seoul to Johannesburg to Athens to Paris to London. From the Independent on Sunday:

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of central London yesterday to demand an end to Israeli military action in Gaza. The peaceful demonstration marched from Downing Street to the Israeli embassy in Kensington, where a police blockade prevented them from gaining access. More than 340 Palestinians have been killed since the conflict began.

The death toll on the Palestinian side is now 70 times higher than it is on the Israeli side - on the Andrew Marr show this morning, foreign secretary Philip Hammond was repeatedly asked whether the Israeli action in Gaza was "proportionate" but repeatedly dodged the question.

He did however make the rather important point that "we can't deal with Gaza by having a flare-up every two years" and the "underlying causes" had to be tackled.

Well, how about proposing an end to the siege of Gaza by Israel (and, to a lesser extent, by Egypt too)? How about ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories?

5) BLAIR'S BACK. AGAIN.

I do tire of writing the phrase 'Blair's back' as he never seems to leave us. From the Sunday Times:

"Tony Blair will issue a coded warning to Ed Miliband tomorrow that the Labour leader cannot win the next election unless he fights from the centre ground. In a speech to mark the 20th anniversary of Blair becoming Labour leader, the former prime minister will pledge to do what he can to help Miliband to get to No 10. He will tell the Blairite think tank Progress that elections are won from the centre and that the party must woo business as well as workers... Friends of Blair say he will offer to help Miliband in the run-up to next year’s election, although his precise role remains unresolved... 'People think Ed is a leftwinger. Whatever they think of Tony, they don’t think he’s that,' said one MP."

That's true, a lot of them think he's a war criminal.

On a side note, will Blair's speech in London on Monday undermine Ed Miliband's appearance in Washington DC, where he's trying to get a meeting with Barack Obama in the White House?

MEHDI'S MINUTE

You can watch my semi-serious, 60-second round-up of the week's big political stories, including David Cameron's 'high five' with Jean Claude Juncker and Michael Gove getting locked in a loo, here.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 37

Conservatives 32

Ukip 13

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 58.

From the Independent on Sunday/Sunday Mirror/ComRes poll:

Labour 34

Conservatives 31

Ukip 17

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 24.

From the Observer/Opinium poll:

Labour 34

Conservatives 30

Ukip 17

Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 36.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "The reshuffle was a victory for sturdy Tory pragmatism."

Jonathan Eyal, writing in the Observer, says: "Putin's hard line on MH17 will only push Russia into an ever-tighter corner."

Donald Macintyre, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "The suffering [of the Israel-Palestine conflict] continues for lack of a peace broker."

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com) or Asa Bennett (asa.bennett@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons, @asabenn and @huffpostukpol@huffpostukpol